More than 34 million Americans have diabetes, a lifelong disease impacting the way their body handles glucose (a sugar) in the blood. Of this staggering number, men are more likely to develop diabetes than women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 15.5% of men were estimated to have diabetes as of 2020 compared to 13.2% of women.
It’s not for certain why men are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. The factors may include poorer eating habits, lack of exercise, gaining excess weight, family history, or possibly skipping routine annual physicals that could find the disease at an early, more treatable stage.
Men may believe they are invincible to developing diabetes, they are wrong. Waiting too long before being diagnosed, can result in serious complications like neuropathy, erectile dysfunction, vision problems, and place men at a higher risk for urologic cancers, including prostate cancer and kidney cancer.
Why healthy eating helps manage diabetes
Anyone given a diagnosis of diabetes has options on how to treat and manage it. These options include increasing regular exercise, medications, and following a healthier diet. Ideally, all three of these options together can help a person manage and gain more control over their disease.
But, when focusing on diet, there are several factors involved in doing it right. People on diabetes medications simply need to follow their doctor’s instructions for taking them; exercise is a matter of fitting in the time and energy to put forth the effort. But changing dietary habits to gain good diabetes control is more challenging. We have to eat daily and several times a day to live healthfully. When bombarded with thousands of food choices to choose from when grocery shopping or deciding what’s healthy to eat at a restaurant, it can be overwhelming.
To understand why food choices matter in managing diabetes, here’s look at understanding first, what is blood glucose and what does it have to do with food:
- Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when blood glucose is too high (hyperglycemia).
- Glucose is the primary source the body uses for energy and is necessary for the body and brain to function properly.
- Blood glucose is a measure of sugar in our blood. Glucose comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates after eating foods that contain carbohydrates (all plant-based foods and the only animal-based foods of milk and yogurt).
- Glucose travels through the bloodstream and with the help of insulin, it’s absorbed into cells of the body. This reduces the amount of glucose circulating in the bloodstream, allowing blood glucose levels to return to normal.
- But if the pancreas (which makes the hormone insulin) is making less insulin than normal or the person has become insulin resistant, the blood glucose levels will remain elevated.
Ideally, a slow, steady rise in blood glucose after a meal is best. But the type of foods a person eats can affect this significantly. Blood glucose can dramatically spike after eating highly refined foods (soda, candy, chips, donuts, etc.). This causes an imbalance of blood sugars rising much too fast and then just as quickly, falling rapidly leading to hunger and feelings of lethargy or hypoglycemia.
Best ways to eat for managing diabetes
A man’s food choices matter – whether or not they have diabetes or not. Adopting an overall healthy diet will not only help manage the disease but also reduce the risk of complications. That’s a win-win for men’s health.
Here are helpful strategies men can use to avoid blood glucose spikes helping stabilize blood glucose levels:
- Pair carbohydrate foods with protein and fat. This combination slows the absorption of glucose into the blood. That means less chance of a spike which means more chances blood glucose will be better regulated at more stable levels. Examples of pairing carbohydrates with protein and fat include:
- Peanut butter with apple slices for a snack
- Always having a protein food like meat, poultry, fish, or eggs as examples, at every meal
- Any fruit with a handful of nuts
- Eat on a regular schedule. Skipping meals and going too long without eating can lower blood glucose in an unhealthy way making it more likely to overeat on highly refined foods later in the day. Eating three meals a day also helps stabilize blood glucose better than going for long periods without eating.
- Reach and maintain a stable, healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Controlling the number of carbohydrates eaten at each meal can keep blood glucose stabilized. A suggested carbohydrate intake for women (for weight loss) is 30-45 grams of carbohydrates per meal. For men, the suggested recommendation is 45-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, also for weight loss. When reading a nutrition facts label, refer to the Total Carbohydrates line to get the correct amount of carbohydrate grams per serving size. Do check with your physician who monitors diabetes for their recommendation too.
- Eat at least 30 grams of fiber each day. Fiber slows the release of glucose into the blood. This leads to fewer blood glucose spikes and more stable blood glucose levels after meals. Fiber also leads to a feeling of fullness, preventing overeating.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911.